In 350 B.C., Aristotle sat down and wrote a 4,700-word ode to bird eggs. One paragraph was devoted entirely to describing their striking diversity of color. “Some eggs are white, as those of the pigeon and of the partridge; others are yellowish, as the eggs of marsh birds; in some cases the eggs are mottled, as the eggs of the guinea-fowl and the pheasant; while the eggs of the kestrel are red, like vermillion,” he observed.
Our fascination has only grown since—thanks, in large measure, to the Easter egg industry. In the late 19th century scientists began to investigate the chemistry of bird eggshell color. In the 1970s, they arrived at a startling discovery: The entire gamut of eggshell colors and markings is the result of just two pigments—one that’s reddish-brown and another that’s bluish-green—set against the pristine white backdrop of the universal calcium carbonate shell. “It’s like going to Home Depot, buying only two paints, and then generating all egg colors based on just those two paints,” says Mark Hauber, an animal behaviorist at Hunter College.
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